When Full Circle Farm was born back in 2007, many of us in this area of work were shocked and amazed that a group of folks in Silicon Valley had the vision and audacity to bring such an amazing project into being. We thought: How did they pull off such an amazing feat? It is easy to forget what a gargantuan effort this was, so we asked our distinguished cast of Alumni Executive Directors to share some highlights from our early days, and have posted their memories and reflections here.
Founder of Sustainable Community Gardens (SCG), Full Circle’s parent organization, and first Executive Director 2006-2009. Co-Founder of Sunnyvale Sustainable Gardening (2001) group which designed and built the Charles Street Gardens community garden in Sunnyvale from 2004-2006.
Blessed by a large outpouring of community support and labor, this garden thrives in its second term lease with the City of Sunnyvale and as the first project of the new Sustainable Community Gardens organization.
The thrill of bringing locally grown produce to the Valley of Hearts Delight, now euphemistically called Silicon Valley, took a huge leap for me when the community garden project completed and I was invited by the Santa Clara Unified School District to bid on the 11 acres of excess acreage the Peterson Middle School had available in their backyard.
With tremendous support from the local neighborhood, who beat off monster home construction on the same property, and welcomed the idea of an educational organic farm in their backyard, and the support and unanimous approval of the Board of Trustees of the school district, (especially Trustee Teresa O’Neill who brought the original idea to the Board), Full Circle Farm, the second project of SCG, was born in 2007.
With a tremendous, beautiful vision from Liz Snyder, and Susan Stansbury of then Conexions, we set out to build the infrastructure to the farm design as envisioned by the document these women produced. There are two experiences I will never forget:
The first was building the underground portion of the irrigation system for the farm. Dan Hafeman, the farms brilliant garden manager, Steve Sukke, and Bob Browne super volunteers, and I, became Master Butt Fusionists as we welded over 3,000 feet of nontoxic/recycleable HDPE irrigation pipe to bring water to the many areas of the farm. The joy of turning on the system and having not a single leak in the entire system was for me the realization we were going to grow a lot of fresh produce out here!
The other joy for me was the planting of the 3 acre portion of the farm dedicated to being a multi-cropped orchard. The planting of over 300 various fruit trees for me was the most gratifying, as they represented a long term commitment to food production and show how a polyculture of fruit trees can thrive together!
I left the organization in 2009. I want to take this opportunity to thank the myriad individuals who came together as one, and created a stunning reality out of a vision of local food production. The Charles Street Gardens community garden and the Full Circle Farm represent my most cherished accomplishments, and I dearly love all the wonderful people that supported this vision, in the past and now the present. May local food production continue to thrive and be supported by all who live in the Valley of Hearts Delight.
“When Full Circle Farm first started, it was under Conexions. Liz Snyder and I had met some months before the RFP came out and wanted to get involved with something related to school food. When the RFP came out, I contacted her and got her involved. We wrote and submitted the proposal through Conexions, which was the organization I was running. My main focus with the proposal was on the budget and Liz worked on the written parts. Additionally, I attended the meetings, canvassed the neighborhood, raised the first $10,000 plus some smaller donations, recruited folks to the Board of Advisors, and all those kinds of things. In the beginning, the finances were through Conexions and expenses were paid with the money I had raised. After a few months Liz and Josh wanted it to be part of Full Circle Sunnyvale, so we moved it over. A few years later I recruited Rebecca Jepsen to take over for Liz. Like Liz, I had met Rebecca some time before and knew her desire to get involved.”
Note from Wolfram Alderson: “Susan was also instrumental in helping Collective Roots get started. She has had her hand in so many things green here in Silicon Valley, we should probably dedicate a page just about her. I’m so grateful to have worked with Susan over the years and appreciate her leadership which keep showing up at the most important moments.”
Taking part in the foundation of Full Circle Farm will always be one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. Together with an intrepid group of volunteers and Josh Salans – all-around visionary and the founder of Sustainable Community Gardens –we dared to dream what seemed nearly impossible: an urban, educational farm right smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley.
These days, if you ask the average person on the street about local food or urban agriculture, usually you get a nod of agreement that locally produced food is a great thing for any community. Back in 2006-2007, this just wasn’t the case. Collecting signatures to gain support for the idea of Full Circle Farm, we mostly got a lot of blank stares. But our hours of clipboard-wielding persistence paid off and we eventually gathered over a thousand signatures from local supporters.
But the real challenge? Convincing the school board that we were on to something! Then-school board member Teresa O’Neill was the catalyst for the whole idea – her work with Save BAREC and farmer-activist Linda Perrine had inspired her to think differently about the school’s excess acreage – to look way beyond dollars-per-square-foot and imagine something wildly different than the greyscape that so much of our open space has become in the last 50 years.
Teresa put out the school board’s RFP for an organic, educational farm. I always had the feeling the other board members were mostly humoring her – the assumption was that the land would be leased to fee-based soccer leagues at a competitive price! All that changed though when our rag tag group came in with our 97-page proposal, our 1000 signatures, and our impassioned plea to keep the land in a form where it could benefit ALL children, not just the children than could afford organized sports programs.
In a surprise turnaround, the school board voted 6-1 for Full Circle Farm. I could have fallen out of my chair! I remember Josh turning to me, wide-eyed, and saying “Holy Crap! Now we have to start a farm!” My sentiments, exactly.
It was a dizzying experience, to have your vision for something so beautiful and good and world-changing to be set on the path to becoming reality. To this day, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the vision and faith the Santa Clara Unified School District showed that night.
In the whirlwind 3 years that followed, I wore many hats: grant writer, post-hole digger, garden educator, event planner, weed warrior, public speaker, produce washer, and even a terrifying 11 months as Interim Executive Director. Through it all, it was incredible to watch the farm come to life – red tailed hawks circling overhead, western bluebirds perched in the young orchard trees, lacewings and ladybugs flitting past, and killdeers nesting in the rows of glistening green vegetables. Seeing the ability of an organic farm to bring back wildlife to suburbia still astounds me!
In 2009, it was time for me to step down. I realized that I was burned out, and that I needed to let others take the torch. Stepping down, though bittersweet, allowed me to gain some much-needed sanity! I’m guessing that many of the early staff that have come and gone (and anyone who’s ever started something great!) would agree with me – starting something this big, and this important, is a tremendous experience. But the energy you need to put in to make it fly just can’t be maintained forever.
Through all the tremendous ups and downs, joys and frustrations, victories and defeats, I am left with one overwhelming feeling – gratitude. Gratitude for everyone I worked with, and gratitude to the land that fed my family, was a vast playground for my child, and nourished my soul. Today, when I take my daughter Helen to the garden and look out on those 11 acres, ever-evolving and blooming, I still pinch myself – it can’t be real, can it? I will forever feel blessed to have been a part of something so magical and extraordinary.
Dignitaries at Grand Opening Day, Full Circle Farm 2007 (Photos: David Ledesma)
There were many others whose roles and efforts were essential to our success… Teresa O’Neill, former SCUSD school board member and long time employee at HP, Linda Perrine – farmer/volunteer, Brian Gardner – farmer/volunteer, John Beall – founding volunteer, Lilia Schwartz – founding volunteer/ logo designer/”farmtographer,” Sarah Gallardo – founding volunteer/Education Director, Sarah Weiderkehr – 1st full time Farm Manager, Sydney LaRose – volunteer farm assistant, Meghan Cole – 2nd full time Farm Manager, Bob Browne – critical volunteer, and many others who I am sure aren’t named here. Someday, when I have time, I hope to gather up perspectives from all of these ‘giants’ and share them with you all.